Expansion of early learning and childcare in Scotland: Quality Action Plan

A Quality Action Plan to underpin the expansion of early learning and childcare (ELC) in Scotland to 1140 hours per year by 2020.

A High Quality Workforce

The single most important driver of the quality of a child’s ELC experience is a high quality workforce. There are few more important jobs than caring for, and educating, our youngest children.

The Skills Investment Plan [1] for the ELC sector sets out a comprehensive list of actions required to ensure we have a skilled workforce in place to deliver the expanded provision in 2020. Many of these are focused on building new workforce capacity but there is also a strong focus on actions needed to enhance the learning and development offer for the existing and new workforce. Some of those actions will be delivered by this quality action plan.

Initial training and qualifications

Questions have been raised in recent years about the need to strengthen the early childhood development content of the SVQ route to an ELC practitioner-level qualification, which is through the level 3 Social Services (Children and Young People) ‘group award’. This award is designed to support skills development across a range of roles with children and young people, including: pre-school services and education provision; secure or residential care; and respite or foster care.

Building the Ambition stresses that to be able to support children effectively, practitioners need to have some understanding of the pattern of development of young children from birth to age five. This should enable them to provide the right type of interactions and experiences within a positive caring and learning environment, as well as to identify when a child is not making the developmental progress they should.

‘An Independent Review of Scottish Early Learning and Childcare Workforce and Out of School Care Workforce’ (Siraj and Kingston 2015), made the case for adding child development to the core units in the SVQ. The Scottish Government accepted this recommendation in part and committed to determining whether further work is needed to strengthen the emphasis within SVQs on early childhood development for those working in ELC settings.

All of the optional units in the group award require candidates to demonstrate knowledge of ‘theories underpinning our understanding of child development and learning, and factors that affect it’. To ensure that all ELC practitioners qualifying through the SVQ route have sufficient and appropriate knowledge of early childhood development, we will work with SQA to strengthen the focus on child development within the assessment for all SVQ units. This will ensure that practitioners moving into pre-school services or education provision from another role have also demonstrated their knowledge of child development. Thereafter, through the Scottish Social Services Council’s ( SSSC) regular engagement with ELC employers, we will continue to monitor whether the SVQ is delivering the right skills for the sector.

Action 1: We will strengthen the focus on child development within the assessment for all SVQ units for the Social Services (Children and Young People) group award.

Responsibility for delivering this action will rest with SQA, who will strengthen the focus on child development by, for example, providing more support from external verifiers to centres that are delivering the SVQs, running workshops at their regular learning sessions with assessors and providing examples of good practice. The focus on child development within the assessment will be strengthened for those who begin the SVQ award from August 2018.

To help provide a route by which candidates can develop and extend their knowledge and understanding of child development, SSSC are also developing new online resources: a mobile application detailing the characteristics of a child’s development and learning at different points in their progress; and an online interactive learning tool which features case-based scenarios that encourage learners to consider how observation informs assessment of a child’s progress and how to plan appropriate support for the child.

Our expectation is that child development is embedded in all existing qualifications in ELC and that there is also a strong focus on this in continuous professional learning so that practice is informed by the most up-to-date evidence.

Action 2: We will review the content of all initial qualifications in early learning and childcare, and the focus of continuous professional learning, informed by the most up to date research on child development.


The ELC workforce will grow significantly over the next three years to deliver the expansion to 1140 hours. This includes managers, practitioners and support workers and it is vital that they are all properly inducted into their new roles and supported in their practice. By carefully planning and resourcing the induction and mentoring of this new workforce, we will ensure that children continue to experience high quality care and support.

Action 3: We will prepare a national induction resource for all staff who are new to delivering early learning and childcare to ensure that they are well supported in developing the skills and understanding they need in their role.

The national induction resource will:

  • Make clear the policy ambition for ELC and that we recognise and value the contribution that all staff will make to delivering high quality ELC.
  • Provide consistent information to new staff about, for example, codes of practice, standards and qualifications.
  • Make staff aware of the range of existing and new support to be made available.
  • Make clear what they should expect from their employers through their induction and beyond, including: the provision of a buddy or mentor; familiarisation with local policies and procedures; time for Continuous Professional Learning ( CPL); and regular feedback on performance.

Setting all of this out in a national induction resource, together with the inclusion of a module on coaching and mentoring in the online national programme of CPL (see next action), will help ensure high quality support and mentoring is available for work-based learning.

The resource would be designed for, and available to, all staff working in ELC. The first version of the induction resource will be available from August 2018 but will be continuously evaluated for relevance and added to on a regular basis.

Continuous professional learning

In addition to staff qualifications, continuous professional learning ( CPL) is an essential component of ELC quality and is linked to children’s development. Evidence suggests that CPL helps ensure staff are aware of best practice and continually supported in the workplace, which reduces staff turnover and has an even greater impact on quality than practitioners’ initial training and education. Recent reports by the Care Inspectorate (2017) and Education Scotland (2017) have also highlighted the need to strengthen CPL, particularly for those working with eligible two-year olds.

We know that CPL opportunities across Scotland are not as comprehensive as they could be – both in terms of accessibility and content – and that addressing these gaps could make an important contribution to improving outcomes for children. Accessibility is hindered by: the challenge of fitting courses around commitments in the working day; employers being willing and able to fund staff to attend; geographical challenges; and the time and costs associated with travel to attend courses.

Action 4: We will create and deliver an online national programme of continuous professional learning that will be available to all early learning and childcare providers and will be centrally co-ordinated and funded.

The online modules will be open to all ELC providers – not just those delivering the statutory entitlement – and so will help to drive up quality across the wider sector. The national programme will focus on areas where practice and/or existing opportunities for continuous professional learning need to be strengthened. It will also seek to address barriers that inhibit part-time or accessible learning and will include the development and provision of learning through virtual and distance models.

We will create a series of stand-alone online learning modules, which will be supplemented by a webinar. The content of modules is likely to include:

  • Supporting the health and wellbeing of children experiencing disadvantage, including training on equality, attachment and child protection.
  • Supporting parents to further engage in their children’s development.
  • Building confidence in identifying and responding to additional support needs.
  • Developing an understanding of curriculum rationale.
  • Child development and progression in early language and literacy.
  • Staff skills, knowledge and confidence in delivering learning in STEM [2] subjects.
  • Tracking and monitoring of children’s learning to ensure continuity and progression, including during key transition stages.
  • Mentoring and competency-based coaching to help with the induction of staff.
  • Improving understanding of, and approaches to undertaking, self-evaluation.

Where appropriate, modules will allow for progression from the knowledge, skills and understanding required at support, practitioner and lead practitioner level so that learning can be tailored to as many groups of staff as possible. The programme will be available from December 2019.

There is also a need for up-to-date and comprehensive information on CPL opportunities available to staff across the country. Practitioners are often reliant on employers and local authorities providing them with information on relevant opportunities, particularly in the private sector. The lack of a comprehensive directory of national and local opportunities not only hinders access to CPL but also hampers our ability to understand what new opportunities need to be made available and where.

Action 5: We will create a directory of Continuous Professional Learning opportunities to help the ELC sector identify developmental support available to them once qualified.

This directory will:

  • Help practitioners to plan their professional learning.
  • Promote the full range of flexible and part-time learning and development opportunities directly to staff.
  • Help providers address gaps and work with the sector to plan and match provision to need.

To be included in the directory, CPL providers will have to demonstrate that they have an established method of monitoring quality, and each listing would set out how this is undertaken (including accreditation and adherence to regulation). We will also consider developing a system that allows those who have attended courses to provide structured feedback that could be made available as part of the directory.

A first version of the directory for proof of concept and testing will be published by August 2018. The directory will then be developed and evaluated for a year to explore how manageable it is to maintain and how valuable it is to the sector.

Ensuring ELC staff are encouraged and facilitated to make adequate time for CPL, and have opportunities to apply what they have learned, is also important. The requirement to register with the SSSC and to maintain post-registration training and learning has helped to enhance the professional identity of the ELC sector. ELC settings also have a statutory requirement to ensure that staff receive appropriate training to undertake their role and this is something that the Care Inspectorate monitor in inspections.

We have already created new opportunities for childminders to access learning, development and qualifications, using both formal and informal learning mechanisms. The Care Inspectorate launched Your Childminding Journey: A Learning and Development Resource in September 2017 – one of the key actions on quality in our 2017-18 Blueprint Action Plan. We are also committed to working with the Scottish Childminding Association ( SCMA) and other key delivery partners to consider the potential for a requirement for childminders delivering the funded ELC entitlement to be working towards or hold the same level of qualification as an ELC practitioner employed in a group setting. Those considerations are underway.

Pay and conditions

Scotland already has a dedicated and highly qualified ELC workforce, but we know that we can do more to change perceptions about a career in ELC and to ensure it is an attractive and long-term career choice. This will require the promotion of Fair Work practices across the sector, including ensuring that staff are fairly remunerated. Public sector staff working in ELC already receive at least the Living Wage. However, our Financial Review, published in September 2016, found that around 80% of practitioners and 50% of supervisors in private and third sector settings delivering the funded entitlement are paid below the Living Wage.

The Scottish Government wants to see all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement, across all sectors, paid at least the Living Wage from the introduction of the entitlement to 1140 hours in 2020. To enable this, and as part of the reform of the funding model, the Scottish Government will provide sufficient additional revenue funding to allow local authorities to agree rates with funded providers in the private and third sectors that enables them to pay the Living Wage to childcare workers providing the funded entitlement. The ELC Service Models Working Group has established a Living Wage sub-group to focus on developing guidance, by the end of March 2018, to assist local authorities and providers in implementing the commitment.

Action 6: We will develop guidance that will support local authorities and providers in the private and third sectors to implement the living wage commitment.


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